An Australian state has become one of the few places in the world to censor the Internet, the Adelaide Advertiser reported on Tuesday.
A new law, which came into force on January 6, requires Internet bloggers, and anyone making a comment on next month's state election in South Australia, to publish their real name and postcode when commenting on the poll. The law will affect anyone posting a comment on an election story on Australian news Web sites.
The law, which was pushed through last year as part of a raft of amendments to the Electoral Act, also requires media organizations to keep a person's real name and full address on file for six months. They face fines of about $5,000 if they do not hand over this information to the Electoral Commissioner.
The Right to Know Coalition, made up of Australia's major media outlets including News Limited, publisher of The Advertiser, has called the new laws "draconian."
"This is one of the most troubling erosions of the right to free speech in Australia for many years," spokeswoman Creina Chapman said. "It is a fundamental principle of our democracy that voters are able to express personal views about the competing claims of political candidates without the fear that they might end up on a hit list held by a government whose policies they may have opposed."
"Isn't the whole point of public debate that it is public and that Australians, including South Australians, are smart enough to read or listen to the views of others and make up their own minds?"
SA Attorney-General Michael Atkinson denied that the new law was an attack on free speech.
"There is no impinging on freedom of speech, people are free to say what they wish as themselves, not as somebody else."
Advertiser editor Melvin Mansell said: "Clearly this is censorship being implemented by a government facing an election.
"The effect of that is that many South Australians are going to be robbed of their right of freedom of speech during this election campaign."